Captain’s Blog: Calling All Captains

I’ve got a theory that every RTB team has a few tricks that would help most of the other teams in the field. Some of them are small, some of them large, but we’ve all got ‘em. Now I’m hoping some of you will share yours with the rest of us.

When I look back over a decade of relays, I see a series of tiny tricks and strategies building up to the strategy we now use every year. In the early years we highlighted the race route in atlases. Then we brought a GPS. Now it’s smartphones. And packing an adapter that allows a power strip to be plugged into the van’s cigarette lighter keeps those devices fresh from start to finish. Wearing a visor beneath a headlamp helps visibility and wearing compression sleeves helps muscles recovery. Calculating the amount of food and water to buy requires information that only previous year’s races could provide. Van decorations can help you find your vehicle in a crowded lot, and unique lights help you spot your runner as he or she approaches the transition. Every aspect of the race, it seems, goes smoother with a little planning. And having some tricks up your sleeve doesn’t hurt.

The one area that never goes smoothly for my teams is, of all things, food storage. Every year when we clean out the van, we find untouched food deep down in some carton, under some seat. Packs of Fig Newtons, bags of fresh grapes, loaves of bread. There’s just no way (that I’ve found, anyway) to organize the food so it’s easily accessible—not to mention easy to find in the dead of night. People grab what’s on top and ignore the rest. There must be a better way to sort this stuff than in the bags and milk crates we typically use.

So here’s my plea: If you’re reading this, what’s a tip or trick you’d share with a new RTB runner? Could be big, could be small. Could involve pre-race planning or in-race logistics. Could’ve emerged from years of experience or been stumbled upon in  If you leave a comment, post on Facebook, or email me at mchalu4 [at] gmail [dot] com, I’ll compile the best ideas in a future post. And if you solve my food problem, I’ll be forever grateful.

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7 Responses to Captain’s Blog: Calling All Captains

  1. One thing which I think is very obvious but for most of my team it was hard to really really understand is that you get ZERO quality sleep.

    We ran the New England Relay in June 2011, a first relay for me and many of my team members.. as much as I understood the lack of sleep I would get. I don’t think my other team members really understood that at all. So just be prepared!! And no whining about it cause you’ll enjoy the moments after! (If you want to read more about our NER experience we blogged about it all @ #shamelessplug :)

    • mchalu4 says:

      That’s a great point, Genevieve. That’s a unique aspect of an overnight relay, and one you can’t really prepare yourself for. I’m curious how your team managed sleep during your race? I’ve noticed that each person is different. Some can sleep in a noisy van for hours. Others (myself included) can barely get a wink of sleep in those circumstances. Some people just power through the night with the aid of some caffeine, also. That’s not a terrible approach, but it certainly makes the post-race crash even worse.

  2. ryan oneil says:

    Every runner should have two bags. One bag for the stuff you’ll need during the actual race and the other for stuff you only use before or after. So, in the van, the everyone’s race bag can be accessible and you can store the non-race bag somewhere else (on the bottom of the pile or in a rooftop carrier).

    In the race bag, have each of your three sets of running clothes stored in separate ziploc, which makes everything easier to find and then you have a ziploc bag to throw your sweaty clothes into after you change out of them.

    A number belt, likes ones that triathletes use, can making transferring your number from your first top to your second to your third much easier than with safety pins.

    • mchalu4 says:

      Good advice, Ryan. We’ve never gone to the trouble of adding a roof rack or pod to one of our vehicles, but it would be a huge help to get some of that non-race-essential stuff out of the van. The vehicle would be a lot more comfortable, and finding things, especially at night, would definitely be easier.

  3. Liz says:

    This spring’s RTB MA will be the third relay for which I have been the captain of an all female team. This has taught me three valuable lessons that likely are applicable to teams of all kinds…
    –re: food, I realized very early on that there was no way everyone would agree. Thus, everyone is instructed to bring their own food and if they want they bring one or two items that are shareable (i.e. a large pack of Twizzlers rather than a personal sized one), but no one shows up with a dozen bagels or five pounds of oranges. We also remind people that we can stop at a grocery store or minimart to supplement so people are less likely to overpack.
    –tell people exactly what to bring. Each team member signs up for one or more items for the van (i.e. tissues, bandaids, baby wipes, etc) and there’s a specific quantity. That way you get the two garbage bags you need not an entire box of bags you’ll never use.
    –for a team that worries about sleep and showering, invest in two hotel rooms near the midpoint of the course. Each year we have booked two hotel rooms with two beds in each so that after each groups 1st or 2nd set of legs, you can go to the hotel, shower and sleep for 3-4 hours in a real bed. It’s a little tough to figure out logistically in terms of where along to course to book, but a shower and bedsheets are life changing after 18 hours in the van together. If you’re strategic, the first and second van can use the same rooms at the same hotel which cuts the cost down to about $15 per person.

  4. Liz says:

    Thank you for all of this information. Truly appreciate it! Can you recommend any hotels along the MA course?

    • mchalu4 says:

      Hello Liz—thanks for the question. Unfortunately I don’t have any experience getting a hotel room during the Massachusetts race, but perhaps one of our readers could offer some guidance?

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